Mar 20, 2012

A New Rating System

I've often quarreled with the concept of rating genre fiction. People like numbers - something they can quickly use to judge a book's worth in lieu of reading an entire review. (500 whole words, do I have to?) When I started reviewing, I attempted to stick to SF Signal's 5 star system, allowing for half stars in between, which more or less correlated to a X out of 10 type system. 

Unfortunately, I soon became dissatisfied with my system, mostly because the numbers started to bunch up in the 3.5-4.0 range. I typically read books I'm interested in so I don't often loathe books to enough to give them fewer than 2.5 stars. I also was reluctant to give out 4.5 and 5 stars, mostly because as good as a book was, it still wasn't a perfect 5/5. Ignoring the very few outliers, I was more or less working between the 2.5 and 4.5 range. 

With such a wide range of subgenres and styles in the genre, I found it increasingly impossible to compare books on a numeric basis. After all, how does a flawlessly executed but pulpy urban fantasy novel compare to a more original concept that had a few flaws? If a YA novel is perfect for teenagers but pathetic for adults, where does that rate? How do you compare Jim Butcher and Michael Chabon, John Scalzi and Neil Gaiman? Good authors all, but for very different reasons. 

And don't get me started on the other blogs who had long ago abandoned any sense of logic. For some, a perfect book would garner 8.25 out of 10 but a terrible embarrassment of a novel somehow still managed to pick up 6.5. Some blogs gave away A+ ratings like candy on halloween (but inexplicably reserved A++++ ratings for the really good books); for others, the mere mention of a genre book denotes an absolute masterpiece. Over any extended period of time, numeric systems become more and more distorted to the point where they are essentially meaningless, particularly if you are not a regular reader of the reviewing site. Blegh.

Eventually, I became so frustrated trying to make sense out of these values that I removed numeric rankings from my reviews altogether.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I happened upon a full explanation of the ranking system employed by the Michelin Guide (yes that Michelin), the premiere global ranking system for restaurants. (I happened to be in a two star restaurant at a time. So good....)

The Michelin system is simple and works as follows. 

  • A restaurant is reviewed and assigned 0, 1, 2, or 3 stars.
  • One star indicates "very good cuisine in its category"
  • Two-star ranking represents "excellent cuisine, worth a detour,"
  • Three stars are awarded to restaurants offering "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey"
Simple, clean, clear. If I didn't like a book or it wasn't anything special, it gets zero stars. No longer do I need to worry about slotting a mediocre high fantasy above or below a fun, if flawed steampunk adventure. 

If a book merits a star, it gets one or more according to the rules outlined below.

A one star review indicates a book that is "a great example of its subgenre and one that is highly recommended for those who enjoy that specific subgenre or are looking to break into the subgenre"

A two star tome denotes a book that is "a standout novel that demonstrates a unique approach or exceptional execution, likely to be one of the year's best and definitely worth reading, regardless of subgenre or preference. Strengths outweigh the weakness by a large margin"

Three stars will be reserved for any book that is "an instant classic in my mind, a soul crushing work of such brilliance that it annihilates any hope of every writing a novel as good, and an absolute must read. Virtually flawless"

To provide a little bit more context, if I were going to fit some recent books into this new rating system, it would probably look something like this

One Star (A lot more here but a few off the top of my head)
Arctic Rising - Tobias Buckell
The Quantum Thief - Hannu Rajaniemi
Leviathan Wakes - James S. A. Corey
Slights - Kaaron Warren
Fuzzy Nation - John Scalzi

The Inheritance Trilogy - N.K. Jemisin

Two Star
Pandemonium - Daryl Gregory

Moxyland - Lauren Beukes
Changes - Jim Butcher
The City and The City - China Mieville
Bitter Seeds / The Coldest War - Ian Tregillis
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
The Heroes - Joe Abercrombie

Three Star
The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
American Gods - Neil Gaiman
The Windup Girl (debatable) - Paolo Bacigalupi

I could see myself giving out 10-15 starred reviews a year (if the books are good enough), 5 or fewer two star reviews, and no more than 2 (probably 0) three star reviews. I'm also tempted to give out YetiStomps for those books which just plain suck but that might just be mean.

Let the new system commence! 

Mar 19, 2012

Gollancz SF Masterworks - Late 2012 and Early 2013 Titles

The latest Gollancz catalog also included an update on their extensive SF Masterworks line.

H.G. Wells - The War of the Worlds
Pat Cadigan - Synners
Nicola Griffith - Ammonite
Karen Joy Fowler - Sarah Canary
D.G. Compton - The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe
Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
Colin Greenland - Take Back Plenty
H.G. Wells - The Invisible Man
Russell Hoban - Riddley Walker
Connie Willis - Connie Willis Collection (hopefully to be retitled)
Eric Frank Russell - Wasp
Walter M. Miller - A Canticle for Leibowitz

An interesting mix there. On one hand, everyone is aware of Frankenstein, The War of the Worlds and A Canticle of Leibowitz. But on the other, I haven't even heard of a few of these books, much less read them.

Has anyone read Riddley Walker, Wasp, Take Back Plenty, or the wonderfully titled The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe?

I'd be interested to hear some informed opinions.

Mar 18, 2012

Spoilerific Confirmation for Joe Abercrombie's RED COUNTRY

Caution: Spoilers Ahead...

According to the most recent Gollancz catalogue, Red Country is finally going to reveal the fate of Abercrombie's most beloved character, the Bloody Nine himself.
"His name is Logen Ninefingers. And he’s back for one more adventure... 
Joe Abercrombie is the most successful genre novelist of his generation, with a remarkable, cynical and powerful voice cutting through the clich├ęs of the fantasy genre to create something compelling and exceptionally commercial. A Red Country is his most powerful novel yet."
Is it November yet?

Who am I kidding? I'll be importing this from the UK as soon as it is released in September.

Stupidest Thing I've Seen On Twitter Today

Someone is positing that District 9 is a better SFF film than Back to the Future.

That's not even debatable. I don't know if I would put District 9 ahead of Back to the Future 3.

In other news, Ian Tregillis's THE COLDEST WAR is everything BITTER SEEDS was and more. I can't think of a series that I'd more love to see on the big screen. Characters, action, plot - I love this book too much to finish it.

Mar 15, 2012

Covering Covers: The Rise of Ransom City - Felix Gilman

The only thing better than a clean, distinct cover is a series of clean, distinct covers. I can respect an art department that picks a direction and sticks with it. These two books will look mighty nice next to each other on the shelf.

The Rise of Ransom City continues Gilman's construction of a re-imagined world very different than our own. If typical steampunk stories are built from brass and copper, his half made world is made from platinum and gold.
In The Half-Made World, Felix Gilman took readers deep into a world on the cusp of forging an identity. The Line, a cult of Industry, and the Gun, a mission of Chaos, were engaged in a war for dominance, one that The Line was winning city by city, enslaving the populations it conquered. A doctor of psychology, Liv Alverhuysen, was caught in the middle, unknowingly guarding a secret that both sides would do anything to have.

Now Liv is lost on the edge of the world with Creedmor, an agent of the Gun, and the powerful Line will stop at nothing to find them.

But Harry Ransom, half con man, half mad inventor, is setting the edge of the world aglow. Town by town he is building up a bank roll and leaving hope in his wake because one of his inventions is actually working. But his genius is not going unnoticed, and when he crosses paths with the two most wanted outlaws in the “unmade world,” his stage becomes even larger and presents an opportunity more lucrative than any of his scams or inventions combined.
The Rise of Ransom City hits shelves November 27th, 2012.

Mar 10, 2012

Sanderson's Paradox - Free eBook Distribution

Over on Twitter, Brandon Sanderson was looking for potential ways to get package digital copies of his books for those who purchase hardcover editions of them. I've wished for this for years as it would allow me to leverage my Kindle Fire for travel and mobility while still supporting my rampant bibliophilia.

The basic requirements he lays out are as follows:

1) System should be publisher independent
2) Little to no additional cost to publisher
3) Books are available to be sampled in book stores (no shrink wrapping)

Option 1

The easiest solution is to have Amazon and B&N integrate it with their Kindle/Nook services where if you buy a physical copy of an eligible book through them, a redemption link is sent to your email or the e-book is automatically sent to the Kindle/Nook associated with that account. These companies both have the resources and the incentive to make this happen as it would correspond to huge growths in their tablet/e-reader sales. I actually wrote about this a long time ago back in 2009 though I don't think we're any closer to seeing this three years later.

  • No way to get the free e-book without buying the book first.
  • No modifications to the book necessary.
  • If a book is returned, access to the eBook could be revoked.
  • Doesn't prevent you from selling or sharing the physical copy of the book once you have your digital copy (no system really will)
  • Would be driven by booksellers not publishers (lots of potential issues here with who has rights to what)
  • Not open to indie booksellers.
But Sanderson throws another requirement in there - 4) that it needs to work as well for the big stores as it does for the little guys. If the mom and pop shops need to get involved it gets a little more complicated. Here are a few more potential solutions off the top of my head.

Option 2

Unique cards (similar to what is included in shrink wrapped DVDs with bonus copies) that are shipped with the books. It would be up to the book seller to distribute these cards upon the purchase of a book. Possibly enhance the security with a scratch off covering for the unique code and/or some type of bar code that the book seller would scan so it's included on the receipt (rings up as 0.00 with the purchase of the book.) This would you from returning the book without also returning the unscratched off card. You could then take this card to your eReader of choice and redeem it for free or a nominal fee.

  • No way to get the free e-book without the scratched-off code.
  • No modifications to the book necessary.
  • Open to all book sellers
  • Doesn't prohibit buying the book and sharing the code (no system really will)
  • Requires modifications to the bar code databases.
Option 3

The next solution would require no additional cards or modifications to the existing book.

A book would be printed with a code inside it. The code would be the same and printed in every book, except possibly library editions. You would enter this code at some website which would then activate a program based on the printed text. This program would randomly ask you 3-10 random questions based on the text layout of the book - what is the third word on page 392? - that needed to be answered within a set amount of time. This would prevent people from getting the information from the books in stores or posting guides to acquiring the books online.Yes, this wouldn't prevent people from going out, buying the book and then returning once they had the free digital copy but the hassle of doing that (see rebate logic) would be better than storing some code you could easily write down in the book store. You could also couple this with a unique code that would prevent the redemption of multiple books.

  • Prevents people from easily subverting the authentication system.
  • No modifications to the printing process necessary.
  • Potential buyers can still sample the book
  • Open to all book sellers
  • Process is more complicated than a simple redemption code and requires additional code.
  • Risks reader seeing spoilers.
  • Doesn't prohibit buying the book and sharing the code (no system really will)
  • Either multiple eBook copies could be redeemed with the same book or people could return a book with an already redeemed code in it.
Option 4

Print "$1.00 eBook editions" that come shrink wrapped with a unique redemption code inside them. They would be priced a dollar more (or whatever price you set) than the regular, non-shrink wrapped edition and you wouldn't be able to return an opened eBook edition. If you were on the fence, the non-eBook editions would be available for you to read a few pages.

  • No way to get the free e-book without the scratched-off code.
  • No modifications to the book necessary.
  • Open to all book sellers
  • Requires a method of writing unique codes in the book and securing the codes
  • Doesn't prohibit buying the book and sharing the code (no system really will)
  • People could open the shrink wrap and take the code without buying the book.
  • Could impact the sales of non-eBook editions if eBook editions were sold out.
So those are my ideas. Feel free to pick them apart or add your own.

Mar 8, 2012

Covering Covers: The Croning - Laird Barron

No caffeine and 15 straight 15 hour days at work make YetiStomper something something...

What's that? Go crazy? Don't mind if I do. And speaking of misplaced sanity, Laird Barron's debut finally has a cover, and a excellent one at that.

Strange things exist on the periphery of our existence, haunting us from the darkness looming beyond our firelight. Black magic, weird cults and worse things loom in the shadows. The Children of Old Leech have been with us from time immemorial. And they love us. Donald Miller, geologist and academic, has walked along the edge of a chasm for most of his nearly eighty years, leading a charmed life between endearing absent-mindedness and sanity-shattering realization. Now, all things must converge. Donald will discover the dark secrets along the edges, unearthing savage truths about his wife Michelle, their adult twins, and all he knows and trusts. For Donald is about to stumble on the secret...of The Croning. From Laird Barron, Shirley Jackson Award-winning author of The Imago Sequence and Occultation, comes The Croning, a debut novel of cosmic horror.

Sanity is overrated anyway. Bring on the Barron!
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